EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 28, 2013

N.H. casino foes, advocates ready for battle

Casino foes plan rally in Concord

By John Toole

---- — CONCORD — A coalition of opponents is renewing efforts to fend off casino gambling, as new licensing proposals emerge at the Statehouse.

The Casino Free NH group is organizing a press conference Tuesday that is expected to include the New Hampshire Council of Churches, business leaders and state lawmakers.

“They know we’ve already filed a bill for next session,” said Rep. Robert Elliott, R-Salem, a casino proponent.

Elliott and Rep. Gary Azarian, R-Salem, are among a bipartisan group of 10 lawmakers bringing forward a revised version of the Senate-passed casino plan the House rejected last session.

Elliott said their bill would include a series of regulatory improvements, some emerging from a study commission this fall and others proposed, but not taken up, by the full House last spring.

“This would clean up Senate Bill 152 and all its flaws,” Elliott said.

Their bill envisions a bigger role in policing a casino for both state police and the attorney general, he said.

At the same time, it wouldn’t rule out multiple casinos for New Hampshire.

“Our intention is to use this bill as a forerunner, not excluding the possibility of having a casino in some other part of the state,” Elliott said.

Beyond the 10 lawmakers whose names will be on the bill are another 75 who support the plan, Elliott said.

Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester, meanwhile, is separately proposing to license as many as six gambling venues.

Rep. Marjorie Smith, D-Durham, a longtime opponent of casino gambling who has been allied with Casino Free NH, said the press conference will include a whole group of individuals and organizations.

“My concerns have always been the same, show me the money,” she said. “If the state is going to get into this business, show me the benefit to the state.”

Smith also said she is worried about helping out-of-state developers at the expense of the state.

Other opponents have had concerns that permitting casinos in New Hampshire could undermine the state’s quality of life by contributing to gambling addiction or increased crime.

Despite approval from the Senate and support from Gov. Maggie Hassan, the House last spring rejected casino gambling, 199-164.

“The New Hampshire House has consistently been opposed to casino gambling for a range of reasons,” Smith said. “I see no reason to believe 2014 will be any different.”

She compared the gambling issue to a popular movie.

“Do you remember the movie ‘Groundhog Day?’” she asked, referring to the film, starring Bill Murray, where a TV weatherman is stuck in Punxsutawney, Pa., repeatedly reliving the day.

“I think of it as ‘Groundhog Day,’” she said of the gambling debate.

Elliott said while he respects Smith, he doesn’t think she speaks for the Democratic Party on the casino issue.

“I don’t think her view will be influential,” he said.